The Link Between Stroke and Diabetes

As someone living with diabetes, you have a lot on your plate when it comes to your health. You test your blood sugar regularly; inject your insulin or take other doctor-prescribed medications; and watch what you eat to minimize the risk of diabetes related complications. One of the most severe medical issues you want to avoid is a stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a person’s brain is suddenly interrupted. This can occur because a blood vessel in the brain or neck becomes “clogged” and thereby blocks blood flow. In other instances, weakened blood vessels can burst. Either way, when blood doesn’t get to the brain, neither does oxygen and this results in severe tissue damage and a long list of very serious problems. In some cases, a stroke can even lead to death. Depending on the severity of the episode, the impact of a stroke can include:

– Movement problems

– Paralysis

– Speech issues

– Pain and numbness

– Cognitive disruption/difficulty thinking clearly

– Memory loss

– Problems controlling or expressing emotions

– Difficulty paying attention


Diabetes and the risk of stroke

So, what is the relationship between having diabetes and the risk of a stroke? Here is the difficult truth. If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), your risk of stroke is 1.5 times greater than that of someone without diabetes. The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, puts the risk even higher at two times as likely as someone without diabetes, pointing out that every two minutes an adult American with diabetes is hospitalized for a stroke.


How does diabetes contribute to strokes?

Diabetes prevents the body from properly processing the food you eat and turning it into energy. After food is digested, glucose or “blood sugar” enters the blood stream, where, under normal circumstances, the hormone insulin produced in the pancreas enables the body’s cells to absorb this blood sugar and turn it into energy. However, in those with diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin or use it effectively. Therefore, blood sugar is not processed and remains in the system until it begins to reach dangerously elevated levels. Over time, excessive blood sugar highs can lead to increased fatty deposits or “clots” in key blood vessels inhibiting blood flow to the brain and resulting in a stroke.


Other risk factors for a stroke

Having either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of a stroke. However, there are a lot of other health conditions, often related to Type 2 diabetes, that can make this risk even greater. These include:

– Being overweight or obese and having excessive body fat

High blood pressure

– Heart disease

– Physical inactivity

– Smoking

– Being 55 years old or older

– Excessive alcohol use

– Elevated bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and low good cholesterol levels (HDL)

– Family history of strokes or mini-strokes (TIAs)

– Blood glucose levels that are out of control


How can you lower your risk of experiencing a stroke?

A good place to start is to look at the factors above, particularly if you have Type 2 diabetes. Some things like family history and your age are out of your control. However, the rest of the list includes things you can impact. Let’s look closer at a few.

Blood Sugar Control

Diabetes contributes to the risk of stroke because elevated blood glucose levels over time can damage or clog blood vessels in the neck and brain. Controlling your blood sugar through a doctor-approved blood sugar testing and treatment program is the best way to keep your levels in the healthy range and minimize your risk of experiencing a stroke. So, test on schedule, whether using a glucose meter and test strips or a prescribed continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM). Follow your doctor-prescribed medication plan, including all required insulin treatments by syringe or insulin pen. The more effectively you can control your blood sugar and prevent prolonged highs, the better off you’ll be in terms of preventing a stroke or any other diabetes-related complication.

Diet and Activity

If you’re overweight, shedding those excess pounds will help you control your blood sugar and lower your risk of a stroke. A healthy diabetes diet limits sugars, carbohydrates, and high-cholesterol foods and, if you follow one, it should help you lose a substantial amount of weight. Add a physical activity routine to the equation and you’ll likely find those unwanted pounds slipping away rather quickly. Of course, lifestyle changes like these are easier said than done. If you’re not sure how to begin, consult with your diabetes physician and care team. They might recommend working with a nutritionist or a personal trainer to make sure you start out safely and stick to your healthy living program.

Quit Smoking

You don’t need a blog post to tell you smoking is bad for you. Read the warning label on the package and you’ll see it contributes to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other medical issues that are best avoided. As someone living with diabetes, you are already at a greater risk for many health concerns and smoking only exacerbates the situation. If you need help quitting, there are plenty of smoking cessation programs out there. Again, a great place to start is to talk to your doctor who will be glad to help you find a plan that works for you.


The three primary types of strokes

Ischemic Stroke

According to the CDC, nearly 90% of all strokes are ischemic strokes. This occurs when blood to the brain is blocked by a clogged artery.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

This stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures. These strokes are very serious, accounting for 40% of all stroke deaths.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

Sometimes called a “mini stroke”, TIAs occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a short period of time. These milder strokes don’t usually result in permanent neurological damage and the clogged artery reopens on its own. A TIA can last minutes or hours, and it should be taken as a clear warning sign that something is not quite right.


How do I know if I’m having a stroke?

Being aware of the signs of a stroke is crucial because the sooner you’re able to get help, the better the prognosis becomes. The American Stroke Association promotes a pretty clever mnemonic device to help us all remember the core symptoms of a stroke and what to do if we experience any of them.


Face Drooping

Arm Weakness

Speech Difficulty

Time To Dial 911!

Remembering FAST just might save your life or the life of someone you care about. It’s also important to recognize the additional signs of a possible stroke or TIA episode. These include double vision, severe headache, dizziness, loss of balance, trouble talking clearly and suddenly feeling confused.


If you experience any signs of a stroke, call 911 right away.

Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit

1 THOUGHTS ON “Diabetes and Stroke Prevention”

by Sarah Keefe

My father has lived with diabetes for over 20 years and he has also had 2 strokes. I got him to quit smoking last year, which was a struggle. I am always checking in on him to see if he is staying on his diet and exercise. He’s not very good with taking care of himself so I make sure to watch in on him as much as I can.
Thanks for the post!